Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The 3rd Annual Festive Parade of Rusty Rollers

The Cobra at Brockenhurst FC.
Welcome to Hopping Around Hampshire's third annual Festive Parade Of Rusty Rollers! Make yourself at home whilst I present the first half of the 2013/14 season's collection of non-league groundsmen's equipment.

I thought I was never going to see a new roller again after starting the season at Pompey, Romsey Town and Hythe & Dibden - only Romsey had one on show, and I've featured that one before. Luckily, I do go to matches other than the ones I write about on here, so a visit to Brockenhurst for their FA Cup game with Folland Sports at the end of August came up trumps with what I've christened "The Cobra", due to its bent handle/neck. Hissss!

Spotting The Cobra was a good thing. However, I was gutted to see that Tabitha Tractor had gone. Still one of my favourite Hampshire grounds though, even without the old girl.

On a breezeblock at Kidlington FC.
I'm following Hampshire clubs in the FA Vase this season, so I've filed reports from outside the county from time to time. There were rollers at all three "foreign" fields I've visited thus far. Unfortunately, I failed to photograph the one at Bracknell Town - I only spotted it on my way out of the ground, through some wooden slats in a compound. Shyness overcame me as I suddenly believed that everyone was watching me (it is a bit weird snapping these things, after all), so I walked on past, whistling a tuneless tune of regret.

On my next Vase trip to Kidlington, I had a beer in the clubhouse before the match, and somehow, all shyness disappeared. I was straight outta the bar, my dander well and truly up as I spotted a roller on a breezeblock and some old grass-cutting equipment attempting to hide in the undergrowth.

Andover New Street's roller had a front row seat for their bonfire in November.
During a break from the Vase, I revisited Andover New Street on the day of their bonfire party, and thank goodness I did, as I found the old fella above, cowering near the huge pile of wood that would later go up in flames. I patted it and comforted it and assured it that everything would be fine - "You're made out of metal mate, they won't burn you"...

Andover New Street's overworked leaf-picker having a well-earned rest.
...also at New Street was an overworked and stressed leaf-picker, resting against the back of a dugout after a busy morning's work clearing the pitch for their match against Fleet Spurs.

Hidden out of sight at Odd Down (Bath).
Back on the Vase trail in November, it was time to go to Bath for some Christmas shopping and a match at Odd Down. No groundsmen's equipment around the pitch, but through a gap in a gate, I could see Les B's rusty lump of old iron. And was that a white line painter behind?

Moneyfields to the rescue!
You can always trust Moneyfields to come up with some rusty gems. At their abandoned Vase match with Bitton a fortnight ago, I found many many pieces of much-loved equipment lying around. I think I may have snapped the above roller before, but it was in a different place, so I'm counting it for a second time. Tick! Behind the roller was a rather exciting mini-dumper truck, which several small boys found irresistible as an oversized toy throughout the match.

Lined up ready for inspection at Moneyfields.
Beside the stand was more equipment, including an old watering can. Nice, but not as fascinating as these wheelbarrows, all lined up on parade ready for inspection. Oi, Yellow Wheels! Have a wash!

A proper turnstile at Bracknell Town FC.
To make up for the episode of shyness at Bracknell, I'm ending this Festive Parade not with a roller, but with one of The Robins' splendid old turnstiles. Part of what made their Larges Lane ground my favourite new ground of the first half of the season.

Previous Festive Parades can be found here and here. End of season round ups are here and here.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers. And who made the 40,000th page view just before I started typing this morning? Probably a spambot.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Moneyfields v Bitton

The sign beside the leaving gate.
I have this hate list. It has 27 things on it. To be honest, it's more irritations than hates, so let's call it an "irritation list" instead. I was reminded of this when I sloped in to my office the other day, and they'd put up a Christmas tree. Nice touch, you might think, but underneath were a pile of presents. I knew these presents were just empty boxes full of fetid seasonal air, and this irritated me - presents aren't for show, they should have something in them! Books, CDs, Subbuteo accessories! I don't mind what's inside, so long as there's something! I wanted to kick these false gifts and stamp on them and spit on them and generally destroy them. A bit over the top, but little things can be the most annoying.

I suspect I'm not the only one who finds little things irritating, because it was the most inconsequential of incidents blowing up out of all proportion which caused the FA Vase match between Portsmouth's Moneyfields and Bristol's Bitton to be abandoned last Saturday.

Moneyfields FC, pitch 1 (left); and pitch 2 (right). And a train.
Moneyfields FC (0) 1 v 1 (0) Bitton AFC (abandoned after 101 minutes)
FA Carlsberg Vase 3rd Round Proper
Saturday 7th December 2013
Attendance: 120-ish
Admission: £5
Programme: £1. I got the last one on sale. Featured my match report and photos from Odd Down (Bath), much to my surprise! A shoo-in for my Programme of the Season :-)
Colours: Yellow / dark blue / dark blue v Red and white stripes / black / black
National Grid reference: SU6602

A train passes by on the way to Fratton.
More of the abandonment later. I was at Moneyfields because I'm following Hampshire clubs in the FA Vase this season - regular readers will know this, but first-timers here will wonder what I was doing there, so I have to explain. Consider this synopsis as being like one of those recaps of previous episodes which precede each programme in a drama series - thus, at the end of the previous episode, the chisel-chinned hero was caught out by the monobrowed, hook-for-hand baddie whilst riffling through a cabinet full of folders searching for evidence of his brother's missing fortune. The baddie shines a powerful torch in his face and pulls a gun (somehow, not sure how he could do both things at once with only one functioning hand - haven't fully thought this through...). Surely it's all over for our hero? The credits roll...

Of course, at the beginning of the next episode, the baddie doesn't shoot - he wants to talk, which gives our hero space to think...

Where was I? Ah yes. This was my fifth Vase match of the season so far. Previously, I'd visited Hythe & Dibden, Bracknell Town, Kidlington and Odd Down (Bath) - reports and pictures from all these matches can be seen by clicking on individual match links to the right. I intend to see a match in every round until all the Hampshire clubs have been knocked out. It was Moneyfields' turn for a visit on Saturday. I would love to have gone to Saltash v Alresford, Reading Town v Sholing or Shepton Mallet v Blackfield & Langley, but I had to be home by six o'clock! Even so, I was happy to revisit Moneyfields. Portsmouth is my home city, after all.

The ketchup table at Moneyfields.
So what happened on Saturday? Well, if you include players and officials, there were around 150-200 people in the ground. If you asked each person what they saw, they would come up with 150 different answers, so mine is only one perspective out of many. Moreover, it's difficult to know what to write, as it feels as though the incident is still sub-judice, the FA not having made a decision on what to do about this yet.

But there's no avoiding the subject, so as much as I'd like to list another 26 irritants, it's probably not the place for them (maybe next time - remind me if I forget).

The first major incident was the sending off of Moneyfields' Warren Hunt for a two-footed leap for a loose ball inside Bitton's penalty area. I was standing near this and can say he was unlucky, as both he and a Bitton defender leapt in in similar fashion - Hunt just happened to arrive a tenth of a second after the Bitton player. If the timing had been the other way round, the away side would have been a man down after 22 minutes and be facing a penalty.

After the sending off, there were a lot of hard tackles and constant appealing to the ref. I spent ten minutes chatting to a local fan (who also happened to be an ex-referee) and we both agreed the man in the middle was getting fed up. It was only a matter of time before someone else made the walk of shame.

A legal punch from the Bitton keeper.
There were two goals within a few minutes in the second half. Bitton's Luke Bryan scored the first, running clear on the left and stroking the ball under Dave Hook into the home side's goal just inside the far post. From the restart, the outstanding Stuart Green equalised, calmly poking the ball home from a Steve Hutchings cross. It went relatively quiet in the goalmouths after that. Both sides were giving it everything they had, with every decision or non-decision argued over. Any parent or teacher will know what it's like to be on the end of this sort of behaviour. In the end, you occasionally snap and do something you regret.

And so it came to extra-time. I was standing behind the Bitton goal, a long way from the defining incident of the game, so I may not have seen everything clearly, but rightly or wrongly, here goes...

It appeared to start when Moneyfields' left-back tackled Bitton's number 7 in front of the changing rooms where a large number of fans were stood. There was no foul, as the ref waved play on. However, the next thing we knew, the Bitton player was pushing the left-back to the ground...players from both sides ran over and were shoving each other around (this is what is known as "handbags"). At this point the ref blew his whistle and stood nearby, watching. Bitton's number 7 thumped a Moneyfields player who fell to the ground. The physio came on to treat him, but in the meantime, the number 7 was going wild, trying to smack everyone in sight. It took four of his team mates to pull him away (most of the players were there trying to calm the one or two hotheads down - not everyone was involved in the fisticuffs).

After several minutes, the referee spoke to Steve Hutchings, who started walking towards the dressing rooms, shaking his head. I assumed he'd been sent off, but I hadn't seen a card. The out of control number 7 would surely follow, and perhaps one or two others. Then I slowly realised that the ref and his two assistants were standing side by side and players had begun to shake hands with them (as I previously stated, the majority of them had done nothing wrong). The ref had had enough - he'd reached the end of his elastic and had abandoned the match.

It seemed harsh from where I was standing. Two or three sendings off and a restart would have been my decision, but there had been so much going on a few minutes earlier, the ref probably couldn't tell who was innocent and who was guilty. He'd snapped, like a stressed out and angry parent. Whether he's regretting it right now, I don't know, but we're all human.

There's no free view from the footbridge behind the stand - I know because I checked.
As I type, there has been no decision from the FA. They will have to decide what to do based on the referee's report. They could order a replayed match at Moneyfields. They could let the 1-1 stand and tell the two sides to replay at Bitton. They could throw both clubs out of the competition. They could throw one out - most likely Bitton, as it was their player who started the brawl and wouldn't calm down.

If both teams are thrown out, the sides they beat in the previous round could be reinstated (Fareham Town and Odd Down (Bath)), or the club they've been drawn to play in the next round (Hadleigh United) could get a bye. Either or both clubs could be fined. Either or both could be banned from the competition next season. It all depends on what the referee wrote in his report.

I hope what I've written was a fair summation of what happened. However, if any of the other 150 souls who were in the ground on Saturday read this and want to add anything or put me right on anything, feel free to do so in the Comments below. The Comments are fully open for two weeks, then after that I have to approve them (this prevents spammers commenting on pieces I wrote ages ago). I can't imagine I got everything right - I was about as far away from the incident as it was possible to get and not be standing on the railway line behind the goal.

Three more views on the game: a report from the Bath Chronicle is here. One from the Portsmouth News is here. And Bitton's website report is here. It mentions abusive and aggressive supporters in the two reports from the west country, but I didn't notice anything other than calls for the number 7 to be sent off. A follow up piece in The News is here.

Moneyfields' stand under the twinkling floodlights.
Of the clubs that I've written about previously in the Vase (other than Moneyfields), only Kidlington were still in the competition this week. They lost 3-2 after extra-time at home to Cornwall's Bodmin Town.

No Hampshire clubs fell this time out, so there are still four left (out of 32 nationally, which is an impressive total). Blackfield & Langley won away at Shepton Mallet (who had been reinstated following AFC Portchester's removal from the competition due to playing an illegible player); Sholing trounced Reading Town in Berkshire; and Alresford Town stuck seven past Saltash United away from home. The draw for the next round, which I assumed would be national, was in fact still regionalised, but with a straight north/south split:

Moneyfields or Bitton v Hadleigh United
Sholing v Hullbridge Sports
Larkhall Athletic v Blackfield & Langley
Hallen v Alresford Town

Ties to be played on January 18th.

And there goes another train...
Apologies for the lack of whimsy in this report, but there was a lot of actual stuff to write about without bizarre filler this time out. I was going to mention that the match was being played at Pompey's ex-training ground, and that I regularly used to travel from Havant to Portsmouth by train to buy the latest Fall album and would occasionally see Pompey's players practicing their free-kicks as we whizzed past. There was other stuff too, but it'll have to wait for another time.

I'm having a break from match reports now until after Christmas. I'll be catching up with Pompey, Havant & Waterlooville and Romsey Town's progress whilst I'm resting my typing fingers - I've seen them play at least twice each this season and have yet to see any of them win. Fingers crossed and all that.

See you again in January (although there may be a roller round-up in the meantime).

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Lost World of Football

The Lost World of Football, yesterday.
Look over there, to your right >>>

No, not over there - that's your dog*. I mean, stay looking at the screen. Just there. It's the Got, Not Got blog, written by Derek Hammond and Gary Silke. There's probably something interesting to read on there right now. Possibly a snippet from one of their new books - they've just released 5 (five) in time for Christmas. I've seen two of them, and they're both tremendous reads.

The big one is The Lost World of Football - 200+ pages of nostalgia for the period between 1966 and the year that football was ruined forever (that'd be 1992). It's the follow-up to Got, Not Got, which some of you may have had in your stockings on Christmas morning two years ago. If you think The Lost World is going to be more of the same, but not quite as good - well, you'd be right about it being more of the same, but it's the football book equivalent of The Godfather II or Toy Story 2 - the same, but arguably even better than the original.

And there's lots of me in there...

GASP! As you read about me invading the Fratton Park pitch in 1978!

SWOON! As you see me sat on some bricks at Blantyre Victoria!

ROLL YOUR EYES! As you read about me wasting my life playing LogActa dice!

*Or cat. Other pets are available.

And here's What A Shot!
But it's not all me. You can also reminisce about Chris Waddle's Super Cup Football game; the misery of your favourite comics merging (Shoot! incorporating Goal); players with socks around their ankles...

There's a ton of stuff to read. It took me over a week of ten minutes here, ten minutes there, in between doing all the living of life things. On every page, there was something to remember or something I'd never heard of but wish I'd owned back in the day. On every page a gasp or a titter. And lots of me.

Lavishly illustrated, brilliantly written, The Lost World of Football is a thoroughly engrossing read from cover to shining cover (I really should go into the blurb-writing business).

Petersfield Town - you're in both books!
The other book I've seen by Derek and Gary is What A Shot! I've contributed a few pictures - the one above from Petersfield Town looks particularly splendid. There's others from Glasgow, Hampshire and Bognor Regis which all look terrific in book form.

What A Shot! is mostly photos taken by contributors from inside the crowd - many from the 1980s. There are plenty of blurry snaps of the backs of people's heads, others are scoffing burgers. Look at the cover in the picture above and you'll get a flavour of what to expect. Pompey and Saints from 25 years ago are both featured, as well as my more recent pics from Petersfield and Aldershot.

It's another lovely thing to hold and to browse. Drop a few hints and you might get both books for Christmas!

Oh, and I don't know if Dave or Eddie read this blog, but if you take a peek at The Lost World, you might see some Baralian stuff! Nobody else will know what that means...

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Odd Down (Bath) v Moneyfields

The wall of Odd Down (Bath)'s clubhouse at The Lew Hill Memorial Ground.
"No, no, not yet!" Moneyfields' Steve Hutchings was standing in an offside position near the corner flag. His team mate Stuart Green instantly dismissed the possibility of making the simple pass. Instead, he took two steps towards Hutchings, pulling an Odd Down defender along with him. He then stood on the ball, swivelled 180, leaving the hapless left-back wondering where he'd gone, like a disbelieving magician's audience gasping at the glamorous lady in the box who must surely have been sawn in half, but no... He knocked the ball into space twelve yards from the goal and then aimed for the far stanchion. Another Odd Down defender realised what was happening, but too late. Flinging himself at the oncoming sphere, he only managed to deflect the ball in an arc over his own keeper's head.

Ripple, plop, yeeeeesssss!!! 2-1 to Moneyfields! They're on their way to Wembley!

Odd Down (Bath)'s seated stand. A pair of rusty old towel racks on the left.
Odd Down (Bath) AFC (1) 2 v 3 (1) Moneyfields FC
FA Carlsberg Vase 2nd Round
Saturday 16th November 2013
Attendance: 53 (headcount)
Admission: £6
Programme: Free with admission
Colours: Blue / blue / white v Yellow / dark blue / dark blue
National Grid reference: ST7361

It's called the Paul Richards Stand.
I've been following Hampshire clubs in the FA Vase this season. They've done very well so far. Two seasons ago, there were only four county sides left at the Second Round Proper stage, and they were all knocked out. This year, nine had made it through - Folland Sports and Sholing were playing each other, but the other seven were all playing clubs from outside the county, giving me eight ties to choose from.

I decided to visit Odd Down (Bath), as they are a club that's always fascinated me. Exotic. Alluring. Sort of. Studying Rothman's annuals through the years, their name has stood out as one of the more intriguing ones, like Billingham Synthonia. Why did they feel the need to add the name Bath in brackets after their name? This isn't normal. If it was, then we'd be seeing Everton (Liverpool) taking on Arsenal (London) in the Premiership (although if you look at German language league tables, this is precisely what they call our clubs, but without the brackets - thus, Everton are known as "Everton Liverpool" in Germany).

The only other clubs that I can think of with brackets as part of their name are Newport (IW) and Ashford Town (Middx) - both of whom use brackets to distinguish themselves from clubs of the same or similar names elsewhere in the country. Curiously, Newport (IW) were playing across the other side of Bath on Saturday at the home of Odd Down's city rivals, Larkhall Athletic. Two bracketed teams in the same city at the same time. Can't happen very often.

[Reader's exasperated voice: "Fascinating, Andy! Don't tell me, you were going to list all the clubs with hyphens in their names next, then point out that Ruyton-XI-Towns is the only place in Britain with Roman numerals, and then tell us the Pub Quiz Basics fact about Westward Ho! and its unique exclamation mark..."].

No, no, definitely not! I wouldn't be that boring! *hastily rewrites next paragraph*

The roof of the covered standing area is stepped, which shows the direction of the slope at Odd Down's ground.
Odd Down's ground is at the top of a very long hill on the south side of Bath. Handily situated next to one of the city's Park & Ride car parks, it is 175m above sea level (Bath City's Twerton Park is only at 30m, and Larkhall are 80m above sea level). The air is thin up there.

Entering at the gate opposite the social club, immediately in front of you is a sight that would make a lot of groundhoppers very emotional: a dustbin full of unwanted programmes, unsold from previous matches. I also spotted a couple of discarded issues dotted around the ground, unread and unloved.

To the right of the entrance is a covered standing area, flat underneath the roof, but the roof itself goes up in steps. It's at this point that you might want to skip to the next paragraph as I reveal the height of the slope at Odd Down...it's a lateral slope of 1.4m, which is the smallest of all the Bath grounds. Bath City and Larkhall Athletic both have 2.5m (10ft) slopes.

Over the far side of the ground is a small stand built in the Eighties containing black and white plastic tip-up seats. Next to the stand are two large green tanks. In front of the tanks are what looks like a pair of rusty old clothes horses. Or possibly towel racks. I wouldn't put my freshly washed towels on them though. They'd get dirty.

Steve Hutchings of Moneyfields traps a loose ball.
Odd Down (Bath) AFC are situated very close to the West Wansdyke, which historians believe was the historic boundary between Saxon England and the Celts. It would once have been a wild frontier town, full of hairy mead-swilling reprobates, ready to repel invaders at a moment's notice.

Saturday's match could be described as feisty. If it had been a boxing match (and it nearly became one at times), it would have been a bare knuckle contest. If you think that football is no longer a contact sport and you've had enough of all that namby-pamby tiki-taki, then this would have been the match for you. It was the brave Celts of Odd Down repelling the yellow-shirted invaders from faraway Portsmouth. An ancient battle re-enacted for the fifty or so enthusiasts that had turned up to be entertained. Except without the crossbows and swords. Or the mead (not on sale in the clubhouse).

Of course, the West Wansdyke has now been eroded by centuries of garden encroachment and dog walkers. It's merely a bump in the landscape, unnoticed by most, but still shown as an antiquity on Ordnance Survey maps.

Moneyfields' Stuart Green skins this bemused Odd Down defender.
The modern day Battle of West Wansdyke at Odd Down will be remembered for a long time by the twenty or so Moneyfields fans that had travelled up from Portsmouth on the fun bus. Crunching tackles, sledging, no-nonsense heading duels, a broken nose for a brave yellow-shirted defender caught in a painful sandwich between Odd Down's enormous centre-half and his own team mate. And five goals - three times Moneys took the lead, twice Odd Down equalised.

It was minute number eighty on the clock before Moneys scored what proved to be the winner, a powerful header by Steve Hutchings from a corner on their left (see the photo below). Imagine the fist-punching rapture, the shrieks of glee, the utter joy. And that was just me, transfixed by this tremendous game, willing the boys from Pompey to triumph in the gloom.

Ten minutes more to hang on. And hang on they did. Just. It's not like the fiery Celts from the old border country didn't try. Spears, chariots, barrels of boiling tar...none of these were used in their assault on Moneys' goal.

A match report from Odd Down can be found here. Moneyfields' perspective on the game was reported in The News here.

In final news from Bath, there were a pair of small dogs being taken for walkies around the pitch several times, which brings my total of FA Vase dogs up to around 15 in four matches - two each both here and at Bracknell, five at Kidlington, and at least six at Hythe & Dibden. A pretty good canine haul.

Steve Hutchings heads the winning goal for Moneyfields in the gathering gloom.
Of the clubs that I'd written about in previous rounds, Hartley Wintney crashed out 5-1 at Erith Town in Kent. Meanwhile, Oxfordshire's Kidlington progressed to the last 64 with home victory over Torpoint Athletic.

Other Hampshire sides that failed to progress on Saturday were Fareham Town, Cove and Folland Sports, which left me with five clubs to follow in the Third Round Proper - the final regionalised round before it goes national in January. The draw looks like this:

AFC Portchester v Blackfield & Langley
Saltash United v Alresford Town
Moneyfields v Bitton
Reading Town v Sholing

Kidlington have a tough match at home to Bodmin Town.

So, four matches to choose from. I haven't a hope of getting to Saltash in time for kick-off, so I shall be at one of the other three games on December 7th. Not sure which yet, but there's three weeks of thinking time to make up my mind.

A stanchion, high above the city of Bath, last Saturday evening.
I was going to finish with a rant about Tottenham Hotspur's heavy-handed approach to Fleet Spurs' copyright-infringing badge, which has been all over the local and national news this past week. However, compared to the slavery conditions of the workers building Qatar's World Cup stadiums under the system of kafala, it really is insignificant. So, breaking with tradition, I'm not going to go off on one about Spurs' legal and marketing departments and their waste-of-space bully-boy non-jobs.

Against Modern Football. So many reasons, but the FA Vase isn't one of them.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Andover New Street v Fleet Spurs

Andover New Street FC. The Swifts.
Andover New Street FC. The Swifts. Good nickname. Reminds me of the time I was walking down the road on my way home a few years ago. It was a dry, hot, dusty midsummer's day. I was looking down at the pavement, seeing if anyone had dropped a fiver, when something in the gutter caught my eye. It was a dead swift. One of those birds that zip around the sky all summer long, arriving here from Africa in early May, disappearing again by the end of the first week in August. Enjoying the cricket from above. Devouring our flying insects.

I picked it up by the tip of its wing, not thinking about any potential diseases or fleases I might catch from it. After all, they spend their entire lives in the air, only landing to lay eggs and keep their wee swiflets cosy in their soffit nests. What kind of lurgy can you catch if you spend all your waking (and sleeping) hours a hundred feet above the ground?

I took it home to show my cat. I thought he'd be interested. Have a sniff and a lick before replacing it in the gutter. I mean, if a cat can't be interested in a dead bird, what's the world coming to?

Of course, he couldn't care less. I waved it around in front of him, pulled its wings out wide to make it look as though it was flying. I even whistled between my teeth for some realistic swift-like sounds to accompany the show of acrobatics. Kitty just yawned and settled back down for a long sleep.

Andover New Street's stand is built on top of an old lorry trailer.
Andover New Street FC (0) 2 v 1 (0) Fleet Spurs FC
Sydenhams Wessex League First Division
Saturday 2nd November 2013
Attendance: 10
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Colours: Green / black / black v Dark blue / red / dark blue
National Grid reference: SU3448 / SU3548

Andover RFC's similar stand.
Where was I going with the swift story? Well, it was supposed to be an analogy for non-league football. The dead swift versus a packet of Whiskas (the Whiskas being the heavily-marketed foodstuff, the swift being the locally-produced organic alternative). Non-league is essentially the same as the professional version - 11 v 11, etc - but is anyone interested? People go for the professional game - and the biggest clubs at that - nearly every time, just as cats prefer Whiskas. It's nearly always a losing battle for non-league enthusiasts trying to persuade others to abandon the hypnotic sparkly lights of the Big City for their local team.

Andover New Street play in the Wessex League First Division, nine levels below Saints, six below Pompey, three below Bashley and AFC Totton. This is proper non-league, where the players are truly amateur and very few people pay to watch. On Saturday, even with only one substitute, there were more people playing for New Street than there were paying customers. I have no doubt that there were more citizens of Andover at Craven Cottage or Upton Park than there were at Foxcotte Park. It's a crying shame.

Inside the homemade stand.
For those who do turn up, Andover New Street have an interesting stand to explore. To quote Vince Taylor in Groundtastic magazine (issue 57): "Instead of arriving on the back of a lorry, as most new stands do nowadays, New Street's stand is the back of a lorry, or to be more precise, a converted lorry container".

The stand was built in 2009, to bring the ground up to Wessex League standards (each ground needs a certain amount of seats, amongst many other requirements). They pinched the idea from the rugby club next door, who have their own container/stand for spectators' comfort. They were both cheap to build and interesting to look at. More clubs should do this, in my humble opinion (is that what IMHO stands for in textspeak? I have no idea).

You enter New Street's stand by opening a garden gate and climbing up the wooden stairs, gripping a banister as you go. Inside, it's chipboard and benches. All perfectly acceptable for me and the club match reporter - the only two people using the facilities during this match.

All ready for an impressive bonfire. Remember to check for hedgehogs.
Driving up to Andover on Saturday, it was like my old friend Roy G Biv had thrown a landscape party for all his rainbow-coloured friends and only indigo and violet had failed to turn up. Blue sky, and reds, oranges, yellows, greens all present in the autumn foliage. All very pretty, but a bit of a nuisance for the club volunteers, as there were thousands of fallen leaves on the pitch that had required clearing that morning, with more falling all the time.

At least they could burn the leaves, as there was a bonfire event due that evening. Close to one corner flag, there was a huge pile of broken wood with an old kitchen chair perched precariously on top, ready for a Guy to sit upon. But who would be the Guy?

We have a bonfire every year, and the children can choose who they want to burn. For example, JLS were the chosen victims a couple of years back. Last year, their choice was between Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, whose finger would have been hovering over America's nuclear button had he won the election; Jimmy Savile, for obvious reasons; and Tory education secretary Michael Gove.

Gove won, taking every single vote from the under-18s - something I suspect he'll never do in a general election when they reach 18-plus. Probably best not to constantly tell every single person in their generation that they're thick, Michael. They're not, and they won't forget.

Bonfire for Mr Gove last year. No idea who New Street had on theirs...

Andover New Street's Prince Xhamela does a "Klinsmann".
It was one of those games on Saturday where nothing much happens until around 4.30, then all the fireworks go off towards the end. A slow burner. If the first seventy minutes was a novel, it would have been The Rainbow by DH Lawrence, the A Level text that nearly put me off reading for life. Give me a rumbustuous fairy story any day, the type where handsome princes always save the day.

As it happens, a handsome prince saved this match from fizzing out like a damp firework. The splendidly named Prince Xhamela scored twice within ten minutes near the end to win the game for New Street. Great name - pity it's not spelt Zhamela, as I'd only been talking about my old Subbuteo team the previous week with a work colleague who was dealing with a Mrs Zammit - the Subbuteo team made up entirely of players whose names began with Z...Zammit, Zorab, Zebedee, Zeal...Zhamela - so very nearly! (Another Subbuteo team - Austria Vienna, I think they were - consisted of players whose names sounded a bit rude - Fuchs, Kuntz, etc. You did the same, admit it).

Whisper, whisper...
Fleet Spurs scored a consolation with a few minutes remaining via a flicked header from a well-delivered free-kick. They kept going, the manager urging them that there was "still plenty of time to win this", but it was all over when their keeper was sent off in injury time. A New Street player was through on goal, but was brought down by a Spurs defender as he tried to chip the onrushing keeper. The white-shirted custodian handled the ball outside of his box. It was just a matter of which player to send packing - defender or goalie? The ref and his lino had a quiet conversation right in front of me and opted to send off Fleet Spurs' number one. I tried earwigging, but to no avail, so I didn't hear their reasoning.

It got worse for Spurs, as they had left the key inside the away changing room at half-time and were locked out. They may still be waiting for a shower even now, so far as I know.

The end of another grand day out in the Sydenhams Wessex League. Now to find the changing room keys...
For those of you who were hoping for another photo of Andover New Street's bicycle made for ten (snapped a couple of years ago when I was last here), I'm afraid it's gone. Still a nice ground and a friendly club though. I'll be back again in the future.

Oh, and did I get lost trying to find my way out of Andover's impossibly difficult roundabout system again? Of course!

Some more photos from the game can be seen here. And here is another match report.

Next time out, I shall be at an FA Vase tie. Odd Down v Moneyfields is my most likely destination.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Kidlington v Lymington Town

The entrance to Kidlington FC's car park.
Imagine it's 1973 all over again. It's Saturday lunchtime. You've just feasted on a creamy pile of ham and mushroom Toast Toppers. You're going out to watch a game of football, patched up denim jacket safely on, bar scarf tied around your wrist, your fashionably long hair freshly washed and waved. You were intending to head off towards Oxford United's Manor Ground for their Second Division match against Fulham* when you bump into your mate Dave. He's heading off to Kidlington, as he's heard the local village side are playing a Showbiz XI, and ELTON JOHN might be making an appearance!

Well, you'd spent all summer playing Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting over and over again on your Dansette. This could be a laugh, so you decide to go to Kidlington instead.

*Oxford and Fulham drew 0-0, so you didn't miss much.

They tried to hide this rusty old mower in the long grass, but I found it!
Kidlington FC (1) 5 v 1 (1) Lymington Town FC
Saturday 19th October 2013
FA Carlsberg Vase First Round Proper
Attendance: 50-60
Admission: £5
Programme: £1
Colours: All green v Red / black / black
National Grid reference: SP4813 / SP4913

Kidlington FC's covered seating area...
When you arrive at Kidlington's Yarnton Road ground, you find that the spectators are two or three deep around the roped-off pitch (you hear later that there were 2,500 people in attendance that day - still a ground record). You manage to stand behind a pair of short old fellas and manage to catch glimpses of the various celebrities as the game progresses.

The goalkeeper is dressed all in black - his name is Jess Conrad and he organises the Showbiz XI. He watched Russia's Lev Yashin on the telly as a boy and admired the way that he leapt through the air in his all-black kit, looking like Batman, so he copied his style.

Look over there! Isn't that Radio 1's Diddy David Hamilton hugging the wing? And over there - it's Record Breakers' Roy Castle trying to be the best, showing a lot of dedication to the cause! The midfield pairing looks familiar - isn't that comedian Jimmy Tarbuck and Easy Listening's Des O'Connor? Yes, you recognise Des from the Morecambe & Wise Show! Talking of which, isn't that Eric Morecambe himself over on the far side? He's taken his glasses off, but yes, that's him alright! You can't see Elton John anywhere...but hang on! That's gravel-voiced sex-god Rod Stewart up front, isn't it? Goodness me, no wonder there's so many people here!

Now, I've no proof that any of these celebrities were playing at Kidlington that day, but all of them did play for the Showbiz XI at some point around that time, so it was quite possible...

...and their covered standing.
So, what was Hopping Around Hampshire doing in Oxfordshire? Well, I'm following Hampshire sides in the FA Vase this season - doesn't matter where they play, so long as I can get there by 3pm. I started off at Hythe & Dibden for their first-ever home tie in the competition. I then travelled to Bracknell Town to see Hartley Wintney in action.

This time out, it was Lymington Town's turn in the spotlight. I'd had a choice of several different matches to go to, but I'd been offered a free beer in Kidlington's clubhouse by Jeremy, who volunteers at the club on a match day. So, how could I have gone anywhere else?

I spent a happy half hour both before and after the match chatting with Jeremy. He told me all about Kidlington Football Club. His son plays at centre-back, his wife volunteers in the tea hut on a match day, and he updates the club's Twitter account, amongst other things. Like a lot of clubs at this level, Kidlington rely on families like this to keep going. If you ever go to Kidlington, ask for Jeremy and say I sent you. He'll be pleased to see you.

Jeremy's son, Christien Turner, attempts to block a rare Lymington shot.
Kidlington's ground backs on to the Oxford Canal. There's a bridge over the canal from where you can just about see the dugouts and the floodlights if you peer through the foliage at the right angle.

You enter the ground via the pay shed, which is just beyond the red brick clubhouse. The tea hatch is immediately to your right, where you can buy sandwiches, chocolate bars, crisps and beverages. Walking around the ground clockwise, you come straight to the covered standing area, which is placed next to a corner flag, as there is no other space for it to go at that end.

Past the corner flag and looking to your left, there is a communal allotment garden, full of enormous cabbages and curly kale at this time of year. Glance to your right and you see three dugouts - two large new brick dugouts painted in British racing green, with a disused dugout inbetween, painted in pale mint green.

There is nothing but hard standing at the top end of the ground, other than a grassy area where passing dog owners can exercise their pets (a public footpath runs around the pitch - total dog-count on Saturday was 5). Walk three-quarters of the way along the final side of the ground and you reach the seated stand part way between the halfway line and the corner flag. Behind the stand is a row of tall trees which hides the nearby housing estate.

The weather on Saturday was 90% overcast, 9.5% sunny spells, 0.5% rainbows. It was a relatively warm day, but even so, I have to say, it was good to see so many people following their mum's the government's advice by wearing jumpers.

Enhanced colour trickery reveals a pretty rainbow over Kidlington.
Kidlington are the longest-serving members of the Hellenic League, having joined in 1954, the year after its formation. The league was originally going to be called the Coronation League, but the FA refused to sanction this name, so the founders named it in the Greek style of many of the surrounding leagues (see the Isthmian League, Spartan League, Athenian League, etc). If only the recently-renamed Kent League had followed the same naming convention, the Southern Counties East League might have ended up being the Peloponnese League or something similar. Too tricky to spell, I suppose.

The Hellenic League is effectively an Inbetweeners League with shifting boundaries. It's for clubs who are too far east for the Western League, too far west for any of the various London leagues, too far north for the Wessex, and too far south for the Midlands leagues. It has generally been centred around Oxford though, which is why Kidlington have remained there whilst so many other clubs have switched to other leagues.

Over the years, Kidlington have played over 130 different clubs in the Hellenic League, some of whom have gone on to better things (see Brackley Town, Forest Green Rovers, etc), whilst many others have disappeared (too many to mention, but Rivet Sports, Ernest Turner Sports, Smiths Industries are just some). Full Hellenic League tables up until 2007 can be found in the book Non-League Football Tables 1889-2007; tables from 1988 onwards can be found online here.

Dench wheels! (I believe that means "lovely bicycle")
I spoke about writing match reports with Jeremy, who sometimes does the job for Kidlington's website. We both agreed it wasn't an easy job. His method is to take notes on his phone as the match progresses and type them up afterwards without too much editing. My method is to try and memorise every major incident and then promptly forget them as soon as I get home. No change for me this week then...

Lymington had won away at East Cowes Victoria Athletic in the previous round, and their league form has been better than average so far, so they had travelled with hope in their hearts. After eight minutes, they were leading, as Shane Sims snaked his way around Kiddy's defence in the shape of the letter S, before slotting the ball right-footed under the advancing keeper. That was as good as it got for Lymington though, as the home side started applying more and more pressure.

After 35 minutes, Lymo's keeper made an extraordinary save to palm a goalbound header over the bar, but from the resulting corner, Kidlington took the lead with a close-range shot by two players at the same time - one of which was Jeremy's son Christien, who claimed afterwards that it was his goal. I'd let them have half a goal each, to be fair. Might mess up the club's goal stats though.

The second half was all Kidlington. Tommy Castles scored a 25 minute hat-trick, then the fifth was added in the 97th minute by Michael Duerden (making his total for the match 1.5*). By that point Lymington were knackered and just wanted to jump on the coach and go home. They'd been down to ten men for the last half hour after their left-back had headbutted a Kidlington player right in front of the ref. Red card and walk of shame for that man.

*Edit: Michael explains that the first goal was his in the Comments below. Of Kiddy's five goals on Saturday, there were officially three for Castles, two for Duerden, and none for Turner.

Tidying away the goals post-match.
So, Oxfordshire's Kidlington were in the draw for the Second Round Proper of the Vase, which was published on Monday lunchtime. Also there were Hartley Wintney, who beat Petersfield Town on Saturday to progress. Leaving the competition at the First Round Proper stage were Hythe & Dibden, who lost 4-1 at Alresford Town.

The remaining Hampshire teams were drawn thusly for the next round:

Erith Town v Hartley Wintney
Rye United v Newhaven / Cove
Folland Sports v Sholing
Verwood Town v Alresford Town
Blackfield & Langley v Oxford City Nomads
Odd Down v Moneyfields / Christchurch
Fareham Town v Bitton
AFC Portchester v Shepton Mallet

Erith and Rye are probably too far for me to go (as I don't usually have access to the family car until after 1pm). However, I hope to be at one of the other matches on November 16th.

Kidlington will play at home to Tavistock in the "Round of 128" (as FIFA would probably insist on calling it if they were in charge). I hope they get a big crowd for that one. Probably not as big as the 2,500 that turned up to see Diddy David Hamilton and friends in 1973, but fingers crossed for 100+. Thank you to Jeremy and the club for putting up with me on Saturday. I expect we'll meet again one day.

Photos and a report from Saturday's match can be found on Kidlington's website here and here.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Hartley Wintney v Clevedon Town

A sign with the times.
To be fair to Clevedon's keeper, there were mitigating circumstances. There was the elbow in his midriff, tipping him off-balance. Another referee on another day would have blown for a foul, but not today. Then there was the low watery sun in his eyes - a sort of hazy alien sunlight that would normally only be seen in an Isaac Asimov-inspired science fiction world - kind of yellow, kind of orange, kind of distracting.

Then again, he may have been thinking about his wonder save from a few seconds earlier. How would he describe it to his family upon his return to Somerset? How high had he leapt? How fast was the ball travelling? Like a fisherman's catch, it was more and more impressive the more he thought about it.

Perhaps he'd been distracted by something more prosaic, like thinking about what he'd have for dinner that evening? Or maybe he'd bumped in to ex-TVS newsreader Chris Peacock in the clubhouse and had just realised why his name was so funny to teenage boys. Did he have a brother called Drew? Did he call his dad Pop?

Whatever the reason, it didn't change a thing. The ball had slipped out of his gloves and was now resting beside the goalpost, a few inches over the goal line. 1-0 to Hartley Wintney.

This way to FA Cup fun.
Hartley Wintney FC (0) 1 v 1 (0) Clevedon Town FC
FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round (with Budweiser)
Saturday 12th October 2013
Attendance: 410
Admission: £6
Programme: Unfortunately sold out when I arrived, but I know from my previous visit that they are excellent value for money at £1.
Colours: All orange v Blue and white stripes / blue / blue
National Grid reference: SU7656

And you will know us by the trail of bread...Hartley Wintney's thatched duck house.
Saturday was only the second time that Hartley Wintney had ever reached the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup. I'd seen them on the previous occasion two years ago when they'd lost 4-0 at neighbours Basingstoke Town. That time out, they were massive underdogs, being three levels below their opponents and were well beaten.

This time saw them at home to a club in the relegation zone of the league immediately above, so they must have been confident of a win which would see them in the draw for the final round before Football League clubs enter the competition. The likes of Aldershot Town, Edgar-Davids-Barnet or Luton Town potentially awaited Saturday's winners.

Hartley Wintney FC's clubhouse at half-time on Saturday.
Even so, it was still a David versus Goliath situation. Or, if you prefer to avoid the usual cliche, choose one from any of these expressions:
  • Men v monsters
  • Chimpanzees v mountain gorillas
  • Gorillas v Godzilla
  • Hobbits v trolls
  • The first tiny primitive mammals v tyrannosaurus rex
  • Underpants v vicious wood ants
How about the tiny Hants village with a thatched duck house in the village pond versus the mighty Somerset metropolis by the sea?

Or we could stick with David versus Goliath.

No spectators beyond this point is what it says.
I had commentary provided for me during the first half by three knowledgable ten year old boys who came and stood next to me. Evidently, they played for one of the club's many young person's teams as they chatted amongst themselves about their playing exploits. "I played up front last week and scored three goals". "I played in goal and we won 8-0".

They reminded me of myself at a similar age - they knew which league Hartley played in, as well as all their opponents. They knew all about Camberley and Badshot Lea and Havant & Waterlooville - they'd been unlucky to lose to the Hawks on Tuesday evening - "only 3-0 against a team from three divisions above us!" They were looking forward to going to Molineux in a later round of the FA Cup, as the game was bound to be televised.

The main talking point of the first half was when Hartley's full-back was sent off when the ball hit his face and rebounded on to his hand on the goal line. The ref awarded a penalty, which was saved by Hartley's keeper. The boys weren't impressed by the referee's decision and thought the save was justice done. They were definitely on their way to Wolverhampton now...

What happened next?
No inadvertent commentary in the second half for me as I stood between two older fans, one of whom was on the phone telling someone about the size of the crowd and how there were so many people here he'd never seen before - after all, when you're part of a crowd of fifty or so regulars, you do get to recognise everyone. Some of them become mates, others nodding acquaintances. You're part of an exclusive gang of mostly middle-aged and older men. I was one of 350 or so outsiders and interlopers in the crowd of 410 (we were all made to feel welcome though, may I add).

Going down to ten men didn't affect Hartley Wintney adversely. Indeed, it had the opposite effect as the sending off had been harsh in their eyes. It was like watching a game of pinball as the ball pinged from one end of the pitch to the other, both sides having chance after chance, but nothing went right until Clevedon's keeper had his nightmare moment ten minutes into the second period.

Some of the crowd of 410 watching from Hartley Wintney's stand.
From that point onwards, Hartley's players began to tire and the West Country side had more and more opportunites. My notebook reveals a double block on the line after 58 minutes; the outside of the post being shaved after 61; Hartley's keeper making a save that Joe Hart would have been proud of from a bouncing header after 65 minutes...and so it went on.

With ten minutes remaining, the homesters were resembling the first tiny shrew-like proto-mammals, their primitive legs and lungs knackered after being relentlessly pursued by vicious giant carnivores. It was almost inevitable that Clevedon would equalise, and so they did, via a deflected long-range shot. The ten-year-olds had spotted that Town's number 11 was their most effective player - it was he that stuck his foot out to score.

That wasn't the end of the action, as Mr Notebook tells me that Clevedon hit the post again; they then had four shots in succession blocked by brave defenders' bodies; and finally, number 11 was adjudged by the ref to have dived to try and win a penalty with two minutes remaining. The ref booked him.

And so it finished 1-1. A nitroglycerine rocket-powered stormer of a cup tie. To be replayed just two days later with the whole of the Hartley team having to take a half day off of work to travel to the West Country. Surely they'd blown their big chance?

The fire exit. Or the entrance to an enchanted world?
A match report from the Basingstoke Gazette can be read here. One from Clevedon Town's website (with photos) here. Andy the Photographer took many photos, which can be found here. If you look carefully at Andy's photos, you can see the handball for Clevedon's penalty and Hartley Wintney's goal in freeze-frame slow-mo. There were at least four other people taking photos, but I've not located any of theirs online yet.

The replay is going on as I write on Monday evening. Hartley's Twitter feed tells me that the half-time score is 2-0 to Clevedon. The winners will be at home to either Grays Athletic or Daventry Town in the final qualifying round.

Edit: extraordinary goings-on in the replay according to Twitter. The Row (Hartley Wintney's nickname) came back to win 4-3 with a penalty in the 96th minute! The village team with the thatched duck house will be playing, quite unbelievably, in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup in a fortnight! They could yet be playing at Molineux or Bramall Lane or Fratton Park in early November. Quite extraordinary. It's going to be quite an occasion on October 26th.

Be there.